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Italy’s splintered radicals unite to fight for labour rights

Ever since the dissolution some two decades ago of the Italian Communist Party, once western Europe’s largest, Italy’s radical left has been splintered and weak.

Today you have two communist parties (Communist Refoundation and the Party of Italian Communists) a green-radical left party (Left Ecology Freedom party, headed by the Governor of Puglia, Nichi Vendola) and although not from the same Gramscian tradition, the Italy of Values party led by former corruption magistrate Antonio Di Pietro, a maverick populist whose parliamentary presence has ensured there remains some kind of Left conscience in Rome. Together these parties represent 14-18% of the vote, polls show. But they’ve struggled to get it together.

Alliances with centre right parties such as the UDC, led by christian democrat Pier Ferdinando Casini, and the forever right-ward lurching centre-left Democrats, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, have added to frictions and disagreements (although tactically tempting at various times, such alliances have all ultimately ended in failure, and Vendola’s current flirt with a pact encompassing the Democrats and Casini’s party will conclude  no differently).

But the unprecedented onslaught against the 99% by the unelected government of Mario Monti – a man who since replacing Silvio Berlusconi last November has proved to be singularly successful in implementing the neo-liberal agenda dear to his colleagues in the elite Bilderberg Club – appears to have convinced them to bury their differences.

And the issue is over labour rights. On Wednesday the Supreme Court received notification of the plans for referenda to cancel two labour market reforms – one introduced earlier this year by Monti and the other last year by Berlusconi.

These reforms make it easier and cheaper to fire workers, although, as is the rule, they have been introduced in the name of job creation.

The experience of earlier reforms in Italy and elsewhere shows that making it easier to sack people will mean, at best that employment is less secure, and at worse, that employers will sack more people. Further deregulation, particularly when jobs are scarce, will also produce a squeeze on wages and other employment conditions as newly empowered employers flex their muscle in the workplace. None of which will encourage workers to spend money and so is very likely to sink Italy’s sick  economy further into recession.

Italians appear to have understood this, with one recent survey by pollster Demos showing 56% opposed to the reforms, with only 24% in favour.

The referendum campaign doesn’t have the support of the Democrat leadership, who are tied into Monti’s deregulatory drive, having introduced labour reforms when they were in government, and having backed in June this year the latest wave of jobs market casualisation led by Monti.

However, the campaign has attracted support within the Democrats, where many are extremely uncomfortable with the leadership’s backing for the premier, a former European Commissioner. These include senior figures like MEP Sergio Cofferati, once a contender for leader, and who, when general secretary of the CGIL, Italy’s largest trade union confederation, succeeded in getting three million onto the streets to kill off earlier attempts at rolling back labour rights.

Left intellectuals and lawyers, and most importantly trade unions like the metalworkers’ FIOM that has been leading the industrial fight against the reforms over the past year, are expected to join the campaign.

For the radical left promoting the referenda, and disgruntled Democrats on the progressive end of the party, this represents a rehearsal for a possible new political opposition movement against Monti and his policies of ‘social butchery‘ .

A fight back in Italy is badly needed. And the rights of millions of workers to decent, secure work, is a good place to start.

PS At a political level, it is worth noting that missing from supporting organisations is the upstart, and currently highly popular Five Star movement of comedian-blogger Beppe Grillo, which has many positions to the left of the establishment parties backing Monti and has criticised moves to slash job protections. And yet, when it comes to doing something about it, Grillo is standing on the sidelines. Hopefully voters will take note.

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